What are the literary devices used in "Richard Cory"?

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A few of the word choices Robinson makes in the first stanza work, metaphorically, to compare Richard Cory to a king. The speaker says that Cory is a "gentleman from sole to crown" (line 3) and that he is "imperially slim" (4). Although the word crown can refer to the...

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A few of the word choices Robinson makes in the first stanza work, metaphorically, to compare Richard Cory to a king. The speaker says that Cory is a "gentleman from sole to crown" (line 3) and that he is "imperially slim" (4). Although the word crown can refer to the top of the head, which makes sense in this context, it can also refer to the object a king wears on his head. This might not be significant on its own, but when we see the word imperially on the next line—a word that refers to an attitude that befits or is suggestive of an emperor—the choice of crown, with its two meanings, seems intentional. (The speaker even calls Cory "richer than a king" in line 9.) Connecting these word choices, we gather that Richard Cory is being compared to someone of royal status, in the first stanza, via a metaphor.

In the second stanza, the speaker says that Cory "glittered when he walked" (8). This is another metaphor. A person does not really glitter, and so we can ascertain that he is being compared to something that does: perhaps a diamond or some other valuable, sparkling object. I think of a diamond or another precious gem, in particular, because they are often said to "glitter" and can be found in crowns as well.

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The primary literary device at work in the poem is the situational irony that is realized in its conclusion. How ironic that Richard Cory, the one man in town who seemed to have everything necessary for happiness and the one man who was envied above all others, is the one who takes his own life in a shocking and violent way.

Another literary device employed is that of hyperbole: Cory is so well dressed and attractive, he "glitters" when he walks in town. Metaphor is found in the first two lines of the final stanza:

So on we worked, and waited for the light,

     And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;

The "light" for which the common people wait could be interpreted as relief from poverty. Going "without the meat" metaphorically means doing without the better things in life, those things that poor people in the town cannot enjoy. Cursing "the bread" is a metaphor for their resentment, for being discontented with their poverty.

Finally, the poem employs a first-person narrator who is one of the poor in the town who admires Cory, and there is a strong contrast in the last two lines between the "calm summer night" and Cory's violent death as he "put a bullet through his head."

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